Ashdown — The strongest prosecuting evidence so far in the retrial of Tim Howard
came on Tuesday when his wife, Vickie Howard
, took the stand.
Most of what Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Chesshir
elicited from her came in the form of admissions that she “must have” made the damaging statements Chesshir read to her from police statements taken after the murders of Brian
and Shanon Day
on Dec. 13 1997 and from statements she made at Tim Howard’s original trial in 1999.
She said she was on drugs at the time and now remembered little of what she said back then. She also complained that Investigator Hays McWhirter
of the Arkansas State Police had not taken down everything she said.
The Howards had been divorced for about two months before the 1997 murders of Brian and Shanon Day, though they maintained a relationship. They have since remarried.
At Howard’s original trial, Vickie Howard testified:
—that Tim sold drugs with Brian;
—that at the time of the murders he wore boots that looked like the boots that have been admitted into evidence at both trials;
—that on the day before the murders, he drove a U-Haul truck to a motel in Texarkana where she was staying;
—that he told her, “not to tell anybody about the U-Hauls or it would get [her] killed;”
—that she drove with him to his family’s farm that Friday night, where he asked her to shine her car’s headlights onto a small shed, from which he bent down and did something she could not see before returning to the car;
—that he told her that this was where Brian and Shanon were hiding their dope;
—that he owned a black bag that looked like a camera bag, which has also been admitted into evidence, in which he kept “stuff for having kinky sex;”
—that on that Friday evening he had a gun sticking out of his pants, which he told her was a .38 he was going to give to Brian;
—that she also owned a .38 revolver, but that the one Tim had that night was larger;
—that they returned to the motel, where he stayed until around 9:30 p.m.;
—that before leaving the motel he told her, “This is only the second time I’ve ever done anything like this;”
—and that he was acting nervous as he left in the U-Haul.
Vickie Howard said she then went to work and that after getting off at 4 a.m., she returned to the motel to sleep. While there, she said, Tim called, asking her to come pick him up near a farm supply store in Texarkana.
Under continued questioning by Chesshir, she acknowledged prior statements to the effect:
—that when she arrived at the store that Saturday morning she found Tim in a black pickup truck;
—that he said “something went wrong” and that he was scared the police would see him in the truck;
—that when they returned to the motel, he gave her $125 to pay for the room, though the rate was only about $30, and that he told her to keep the rest of the money for Christmas;
—that he was worried about fingerprints on the Smith & Wesson gun;
—that he told her to contact the truck’s owner, pick him up and bring him to retrieve the truck;
—that he then drove away in her car;
—and that “when Tim gets on drugs real heavy, he’s dangerous.”
When cross-examined by Kate Streett, one of Tim Howard’s defense attorneys, Vickie said that she and Tim once lived across the street from Brian and Shanon Day and that they and their children were “like family” to her.
Streett asked if she had questioned Tim about the revolver.
Vickie answered that he’d told her that Brian was involved in a deal that was going to be transacted at the Howard farm, which aroused her concern for Brian. However, she said, Tim also told her that Phillip Bush would be with Brian, which made her feel better.
Streett read Vickie her testimony from the first trial, where she’d testified that:
—when she met Tim in the black pickup on Saturday morning, “he was acting scared;”
—he said he was afraid police would find his fingerprints on the .38;
—he told her that, earlier that morning, when Brian had not shown up at the Days as expected, he’d headed to the farm to check on him but turned around because he’d seen police going there too;
— he had on the same shirt and jeans as the night before and that there was no blood on them or bruises or scratches on him;
— she later told Tim she was going to go to Ashdown to see what was going on, but that as she neared the farm a cousin of Tim’s told her somebody was dead there, so she drove directly on to the Days’;
—that a police car was pulling away from the Days’ house as she arrived;
—and that, after seeing that, she felt “very upset” and was “pretty sure” she’d called Tim to describe the events.
Both sides asked Vickie about three statements Investigator McWhirter had taken from her in the weeks after the murders. Vickie testified that she initiated the contact with McWhirter after her father, with whom she was living, received a call from a man named Eugene Cooper, whom Vickie had known long before.
Her father has since died, and what Cooper allegedly told him would apparently not be admissible because it would be hearsay if Vickie repeated it.
However, after the jury was dismissed for lunch, Circuit Judge Charles Yeargan allowed a brief hearing into the question of why Vickie contacted McWhirter.
In that hearing, Vickie said that:
—Cooper was a “former crooked cop and meth dealer who got fired;”
—And that after the murders, Cooper called her father’s house and said that Tim had killed Brian Day with Vickie’s .38 and that if he found out that Vickie had Tim’s bloody clothes, he would come and kill the whole family.
“That’s the reason I went to Hays [McWhirter],” Vickie said. She said that after she told the investigator about that call, “Hays came and got my gun.”